Calm down, uranium is a conversation Australia needs to have

When the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the latest round of their reports in March and April, environment groups and scientists across the globe were quick to highlight their findings and warnings.

The first of these IPCC reports, released on 31 March, examined the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, potential impacts, and options for adaptation.

The second report released on 14 April noted with "high confidence" that "delaying mitigation efforts … is estimated to substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels".

Unsurprisingly, the reports and the commentary surrounding them drove significant global media coverage. And rightly so. The UN's IPCC reports are important documents with serious warnings about climate change.

But in between these two reports, the UN also produced another important document on the environment that went almost completely unremarked by the green movement.

On 2 April, the UN's Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) released its report to the General Assembly on the effects of radiation exposure from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident.

The report's remarkable conclusion may help explain why the environment movement was not so keen to talk about it.

UNSCEAR found that "no radiation-related deaths or acute diseases have been observed among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident".

It also found that "no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants".

There has been years of scare-mongering from nuclear energy's opponents about the Fukushima nuclear accident — which was unquestionably a serious event with continuing implications.

Regrettably, anti-nuclear campaigners continue with overblown, cataclysmic rhetoric about nuclear energy that flies in the face of inconvenient facts such as those produced by UNSCEAR.

Nuclear energy offers clean base load electricity. Rational people are increasingly seeing nuclear energy, with its low carbon emissions, sound safety record and 24/7 base load power, as an important part of the response to climate change.

This was reflected in recent polling showing 55 per cent support for uranium mining and 48 per cent support for nuclear power in South Australia.

Respondents were asked "When considering the current debate about climate change, what role do you see nuclear power playing in Australia?"

 Some 62.9 per cent answered that it was either an important contributor or an option to be considered.

But the cognitive dissonance in the environment movement continues even when quoting serious climate change campaigners like Lord Nicholas Stern.

Greens are quick to point out that "Respected British economist Lord Nicholas Stern has seen fit to say that this government's actions show it's not serious about climate change."

But they conveniently ignore Lord Stern when he says:

 "It is a great pity because Australia has tremendous potential in the creativity of its people and its technology and I think it could play a great lead on this and benefit in the process and be a leader in this dynamic transition to a new way of doing things, investing in renewables and nuclear and whichever way that Australia chooses but there are real options there including carbon capture and storage."

Australia has an important role to play in helping deliver more nuclear energy globally.

We are the third largest uranium supplier in the world. The 8,391 tonnes we exported in 2012/13 was equivalent to Australia's entire electricity production.

But we'd have the chance to export even more if the brakes were removed from the uranium sector in Australia. That means environmental approvals need to be streamlined so that assessment is not only thorough, but also efficient.

It took one uranium producer in Australia more than three and a half years to obtain state and federal approvals for a project. This did not deliver better environmental outcomes — it just delayed a project with the potential to fuel millions of megawatts of emissions-free energy.

The project delays are symbolic of the regulatory straight jacket surrounding uranium; the biggest of which is the legislative ban on nuclear energy in Australia. Not even New Zealand has such a ban.

But even trying to discuss nuclear energy in Australia in a calm and rational manner is close to impossible.

This is a great shame because many environmentalists are now seeing the significant benefits presented by nuclear power.

As former Greenpeace UK head Stephen Tindale said, "I spent 20 years campaigning against nuclear, then decided I'd been wrong, and said so."

Daniel Zavattiero is executive director of Uranium for the Minerals Council of Australia.

This article originally appeared on the ABC. 

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